“Guys, up here.”
Way up behind mine and Chris’ houses was a State Forest we liked to hike through. It always seemed cooler up there, so it was an especially nice place to hang out during the summer. There was a stream that ran through the middle with these little pools you could wade into and cool off. We had heard from some of the neighborhood kids that a tree had fallen near one of the deeper pools and that someone had gotten a bunch of rocks and stuff to dam it off, creating a pool deep enough to swim in.
“Move your asses.”
Sounded like Chris found the pool. We came around a bend and saw him standing on the fallen tree. When he saw us, he put both arms out to his side and fell backwards, making a loud ker-plop. We rushed up the last bit of trail and saw him treading water in the middle of the pool.
“It’s only this bit that’s deep, and I can almost touch.” He swam over to his left about a foot. “I can touch here and,” he walked over another foot, and his torso was out of the water, “it goes up fast. Better than nothing.”
We all shrugged and started to undress. When Jenny pulled her T-shirt over her head, I saw she was wearing a one-piece, thankfully. I didn’t need the distraction of gawking at her in a two-piece. Lizzie had a one-piece on too, but there would have been no gawking at her anyway, skinny little thing that she was.
I stuck my foot in. “Cold.” Steve stomped in, splashing us a little as he went. He belly flopped right into the middle.
The whole pool was no more than twenty feet around, nestled in between the rocks and roots the stream had cut over the years. The water was cold enough that it took your breath away when you first got chest deep, but a moment after that, it cooled your bones down nicely.
“Lizzie, do you have a swim team at your school?” I knew Jenny had been on the swim team her freshman year and then quit. I wanted to have a reason to ask her why, so I was hoping she’d bring it up.
“No, no pool, no swim team, I guess.”
No one said anything in response.
“Jenny, weren’t you on the swim team at one point?”
I was in the middle of the pool now. Chris was a little bit taller than me, so where he could kind of touch the bottom, I couldn’t feel anything.
“Why’d you quit?”
“Just wasn’t for me, I guess. Even though we were supposed to be just going against ourselves, our own times and such, there was too much competition for me.”
I floated back over to the side and sat underwater where the pool was shallow enough. Lizzie and Chris took the middle spot now. We spent a few minutes rotating in and out of the middle; me and Steve, Chris and Steve, me and Lizzie, Jenny and Chris. No one said there could only be two people in the middle, but we each waited our turn. The sound of the water trickling from pool to pool and the sloshing of bodies through the water echoed out of the ravine, drifting out toward the sound of the heat bugs in the distance.
I leaned my head back against a rock on the edge of the pool and closed my eyes. I heard someone swim over next to me; a peek showed me it was Steve. I closed my eyes again.
“This is so serene, man. Like, I feel like we live in the past right now, like when we go back to the car it will be one of those ones you have to crank up or something.”
Steve gave me an affirmative hum, and we both closed our eyes and just listened to the water for awhile.
When I opened my eyes, only Lizzie was in the pool, swimming in the middle. I gave her a shrug.
“Down there,” she pointed, “and I don’t know.”
I swam over in the direction Lizzie had pointed, toward where the tree had fallen. Jenny was crouched at the edge of one of the lower pools, about thirty feet away. She was looking at something at the edge of the pool, sort of running her hand over it. I couldn’t see what it was.
My dad had this set of Time/Life books about fairy tales and wizards and stuff. I always loved looking through the pictures. There was this one picture of a knight coming upon a pool of bathing dryads. Jenny looked like that picture.
Steve swam next to me and looked down for a moment.
“Psychic snail, right dude?”
It took me half a second to remember what he was talking about—Jeremy and his psychic snail joke.
“Yeah, psychic snail for sure.”
Lizzie swam over to my right.
“Hubba, hubba, guys!”
I shot her a look, and she stuck her tongue out at me. I looked down, and Jenny was still reaching out at something at the edge of the pool, so she hadn’t heard us. Before I could figure it out or give Jenny a shout and ask her, I heard Chris give a whistle from behind us. He was standing on a large rock that sat next to the pool above ours.
“Think I can jump?”
“Gotta hit the middle, dude.” As soon as Steve said it, I got a rushing feeling in my guts.
“Nah, dude, too shallow.”
“Come on, I can hit it.”
“I think he can hit it, dude.”
“No, seriously, even the middle’s too shallow, and there’s rocks and stuff.”
I gave Lizzie a tap on the arm so she’d back me up, but she just shrugged at me. I turned to Steve. “Tell him it’s too shallow, dude.”
“Casey’s vagina says it’s too shallow.”
“Shut up. Dude, it’s too shallow.”
Chris gave a look over the edge. “Alright. I’ll come back when I don’t have my mommy with me.”
“That’s fine,” I shouted up to him, “kill yourself on your own time.”
The rushing ramble in my guts subsided. Jenny had walked back up to our pool, and she was getting in. I swam out to the middle, and she met me there.
“What, uh, what were you looking at the other pool over there.”
“Cool, was there any eggs? I always like the egg clusters; they’re stuck to branches and stuff.”
“No, didn’t see any.”
“Maybe they’re upstream.”
Treading water together in the middle, our hands touched a couple of times. I thought maybe the next time they touched I’d grab hold a little. They touched again, and I didn’t grab hold.
“You don’t think Chris could have made that jump?”
“I dunno. Guess he could have.”
“Better to play it safe, I guess.”
I said, “Yeah,” but I suddenly didn’t agree with her.
Dan Pullen lives in Connecticut with his wife and three children. He writes stories about simple people and their complex lives.